Personality Therapy

Episode #5: In Defense of Defense Mechanisms

Deciphering Freud’s Defense Mechanisms

In this episode, we explore the impactful theories of Sigmund Freud, particularly the concept of defense mechanisms.

Freud’s Toolbox for the Psyche

While some view Freud’s ideas with skepticism, it’s undeniable that they find resonance in everyday life. His defense mechanisms are strategies employed by the unconscious mind to deal with reality and maintain self-esteem.

Diving into the Mechanisms

  1. Repression:

    A method our psyche uses to block out distressing memories or feelings. However, there’s a debate surrounding this concept. Notably, Allen Esterson highlights the controversy behind Freud’s idea of repression, especially regarding memories related to traumatic events like the Holocaust. Recent studies suggest that such memories might not be repressed as previously believed.
  2. Reaction Formation:

    An interesting mechanism where anxiety-inducing thoughts are converted into their polar opposites. So, love might manifest as hatred, and vice versa.
  3. Regression:

    Ever noticed someone reverting to childlike behaviors when stressed? That’s regression—returning to primitive behaviors to combat anxiety.
  4. Rationalization:

    Here, we try to justify our actions with seemingly logical reasons, even if they’re not the real cause. For instance, claiming a test was unfair when one doesn’t perform well.
  5. Denial:

    This involves refusing to acknowledge an unpleasant reality. It’s the difference between not remembering an event and distorting its perception.
  6. Displacement:

    A mechanism where strong emotions, typically anger, are redirected from the primary source to a safer target. For example, yelling at someone else after a bad day at work.

Repression: A Deep Dive

If one wishes to explore the complexities of repression, “Repression: What It Is & Its Place in Modern Psychology” serves as an enlightening read.

In Conclusion

Freud’s defense mechanisms provide a lens through which we can understand human behavior. While controversial, they’ve shaped many psychological discussions. Understanding them helps shed light on our reactions, giving us tools to navigate our emotions better. After all, while Freud’s theories might be debated, their impact is undeniable.

Here’s good resource on the concept of repression: Repression: What It Is & Its Place in Modern Psychology



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    February 25, 2007

    This is really amazing episode i enjoyed about defense mechanisms . Thanks

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    February 25, 2007

    Hey thanks a lot for these defense mechanisms……its helpful

  3. Defense Mechanisms (visual) | skinnurse

    February 25, 2007

    […] Click Here to listen to a PodCast on the PsychFiles on the Topic of Defense Mechanisms. […]

  4. Ebon Talifarro

    February 25, 2007

    Ebon Talifarro

    Freud and the Defense Mechanisms of Repression, Rationalization and More | The Psych Files

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    February 25, 2007

    Is there a way to get a transcript of this episode? I need it for my Psychology assignment.

    Thank you

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    February 25, 2007

    Is there a way to get a transcript of this episode? I have to use this for my Psychology assignment.
    Thank you

  7. Ep 192: An Example of How Psychoanalysts Really Interpret Dreams | The Psych Files Podcast

    February 25, 2007

    […] In earlier episodes of The Psych Files I asked you not to dismiss Freud’s ideas. Too often we only hear about his (100 year old) ideas on sex. There is A LOT more to Freud and this episode will convince you of that. […]

  8. Wearing My Tutu To Analysis | The Psych Files Podcast

    February 25, 2007

    […] In Defense of Defense Mechanisms […]

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    February 25, 2007

    thank you for the information ! it’s very useful for me :))

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    Bob Herrmann-Keeling

    February 25, 2007

    C.J. — You say you “have a lot of anxiety.” It’s an interesting way to put it, that you possess (or are possessed by) negative thoughts by which you trouble yourself. This is called “psycholoogy of possession.” Dr. Alfred Adler contrasted it with “psychology of use,” or that behavior is chosen (not caused, not caught like a cold!) for the purpose it can have in the person’s life. If you were in Adlerian counseling, I’d ask, “What do you get out of feeling anxious in the face of the LCSW exam?” There’s no “right” answer, only YOUR answer. My experience is that a client’s response is to say, “Are you crazy? What could I possibly get out of this behavior that blocks me from my goals, this behavior that I have come to you to stop?!?!” But when we talk, the person begins to see that (1) behavior is chosen, and (2) behavior has a goal, a purpose, a result. So I ask you: What do you intend as a result of being anxious? (Hint: What results have you already gotten?) You’ve failed the exam twice, showing how powerful you are, and that you can achieve what you set out to achieve! You have chosen, and carried out, a behavior that gives you a result. Since no one else is in charge of your emotions, it is clear that you can do what is needed to get what you want! This is heady stuff! Clearly you are a strong, determined person. (But if you truly want to pass the exam, you’ll want to choose some other goal than failing, and some mental behavior other than anxiety to gain this new goal. That’s up to you. By choosing as you have, you’ve shown you are powerful. So choose that which will gain victory…assuming that’s what you want.) You might want to talk with an Adlerian /Rational-emotive, or cognitive therapist about your mistaken thought processes before you take the exam again. Best wishes! — Bob Herrmann-Keeling — email:

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    February 25, 2007

    Hello Micheal,
    I am studying for the LCSW exam and alot of the material is very helpful, especially on Freud, and Erickson. I have failed the test two times, I have alot of anxiety , fear of failing the exam. I studied before but really want to learn what I studied now and get rid of this anxiety, What else do you have to help with the anxiety and on development. Thanks so much

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    February 25, 2007

    Thanks so much for your comment. Clearly you know a lot about the history between Freud and Adler regarding defense mechanisms, so I’ll defer to you on this. I was unaware of this issue between the two of them over defense mechanisms. Thanks for this (I fixed the link to the Life Course Institute so it should be working now). – Michael

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    Bob Herrmann-Keeling

    February 25, 2007

    Hi Michael
    Your article on defense mechanisms (Freud) seems to neglect Alfred Adler’s earlier contributions (“Safeguarding behavior”) which were essentially the same thing but which Freud rejected as being too attached to ego psychology, which was a no-no with him and others at the time. (Which was why, during the spring 1911 debates, Freud accused Adler of speaking only to “ego psychology.”) Some 15 years later, however, Freud took Adler’s ideas (as he did with so much of Adler!) and re-named them the “ego defence mechanisms.” [The Ansbachers devote chapter ten to this topic in their classic “The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler,” Basic Books, 1956.] They note that the difference between Freud and Adler on this was Freud’s biological orientation, whereas Adler’s was social. Of course Adler was the first psychiatrist Freud invited (October, 1902) to help create what became psycho-analysis, so it was to be expected that there’d be some over-lap in their approaches, and some “taking” of Adler’s ideas by Freud. E.g., “aggression instinct” by Adler, rejectedd by Freud, then later taken by Freud as a main pillar of psycho-analysis!) Just thought you’d like to know that Adlerians see this article as one-sided and incomplete. (Sorry, my main web site is, with MUCH info on Adler, but I’m having problems uploading it.)

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    February 25, 2007


    Glad you liked the episode. I haven’t done an episode on Elizabeth Loftus’ research yet, but I really have to. She’s done some excellent work.

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    Khamael Al Safi

    February 25, 2007

    This was really useful for my exam especially that we had to include some critical thinking aspects in our answers..Thanks a lot! I love the connecting to other psychologists (Loftus etc)

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    Michael Britt

    February 25, 2007

    Glad you liked the episode. Thanks for the comment!


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    February 25, 2007

    Great! thank u sooo very much!

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